Is the new way of doing politics that Vice President Saulos Chilima speaks about simply a matter of standing at Catholic Church podiums and ejaculating parables nobody understands?
After the much-anticipated breaking of his silence at the beginning of last month, the expectation on the part of much of the Malawian public was that Vice president Saulos Chilima would come out of his cocoon and speak openly and clearly about his political vision, political career direction and the ideas that he had been thus far unable to expound while in the confines of DPP repression.
It was all very well speaking about the heroes that fought for the independence of Malawi as a state, or those that struggled against the Kamuzu Banda dictatorship, and it was all very well to distance oneself from the shenanigans and the charade of the forthcoming Democratic Progressing Party convention, but as far as Malawian are concerned, it was not enough. Malawians expected – and still expect- a direction and a promise of greatness. This is the reason why everything the Vice President has said since then has been scrutinised and analysed with extra attention. It also explains why when all they get is the vice president speaking in parables from the safety of the Catholic Church podium, Malawians feel a sense of betrayal, disappointment and concern, and tempers fly high.
The anger and the irritation that some have displayed in reaction to Chilima’s parables may very well be explained in the fact that the expectation that the Vice President is the long awaited transformational leader who would rescue Malawi from the throes of economic oblivion is being frustrated and thwarted by none other than the potential candidate himself!
In this kind of thinking, however, lies the biggest flaw in the reasoning with regards to our expectation for change. It seems that to those that see Chilima’s parables as the cowardly pronunciations of a man far from ready to lead a transformational movement, Chilima should have been following a predictable path that has been walked numerous times by those that have led revolutionary movements before him.
In other words, while expecting Chilima to do things differently, they also want him NOT to do things differently. They want him to be transparent, predictable and unsurprising in his political tactics. They would prefer that everyone should be able to read understand all his strategic manoeuvres and envisage his every move. They are bullying and cajoling him to make a move and make a speech they understand so that they can then follow where he is going. Yet they forget that he is contesting against veterans in the political game who are also keenly interested in knowing exactly what his next move is going to be so that they can deploy their own counterstrategies to thwart him.
I would suggest that from his various pronouncements in his capacity as Vice President, Chilima has said enough for analytical Malawians to see that he understands and appreciates the challenges facing the country’s economic development and the solutions that need to be implemented to address them.
From his various speeches, I have managed to glean some substantive points about his ideas for economic development. For Malawi to change, we need to reform and transform the existing political dynamics and governance structure. At the political level, we need to divorce the ruling party syndrome from affairs of government. In order to do this, we have to dispense with tribalism, cronyism and political party affiliation in public appointments and in running affairs of the state. We need to have a public service where appointments are based purely on merit and not tribalism and cronyism or political party affiliation. We need a public service where merit and hard work are more important than where one comes from.
Civil service reform has been at the heart of his speeches as Vice President as a crucial factor in developing a leadership philosophy that will equally transcend to state-owned enterprises, where we have seen that tribesmen and political party zealots are arrogantly and oftentimes embarrassingly appointed to various boards without the requisite experience and expertise. When you consider the corrupt and nepotistic sale of MSB bank and the mystery surrounding the moving of all major government accounts from NBS Bank to FDH bank (which to date has never been investigated, by the way), you have to agree that the corruption of tribalism, nepotism and lack of transparency has been a major factor in the rampant abuse of public resources.
There is the need, therefore, to promote an open and merit-based system of access to government services and contracts, and appointments to positions in civil service and the general public service as a whole.
At the governance level, we already have a chain of promises that have hitherto lacked political will for implementation. In this respect, independence of governance institutions and offices is critical. The appointment of the Director General of the Anti-corruption Bureau, the Director of Public prosecutions, the Auditor General, Ombudsman, Reserve Bank Governor, Chairpersons and board members of parastatals are all examples. For us to entrench a good governance framework, we will reduce appointing powers of the presidency. A new broom needs to sweep clean without leaving skeletons in the closet to hold the country at ransom.
Both Chilima and even the MCP president Lazarus Chakwera have expressed their understanding as leaders of these important development issues, and have also observed that government has the duty to come up with radical strategies to end poverty; and that the strategies should not only be kept on shelves gathering dust but implemented with passion. It is not a secret to anyone that political leaders have a heavy responsibility and that the approach should be to develop and implement long-term plans for decades and avoid the temptation to appeal only to immediate self-interest, short election cycles as is the case at the moment.
Chilima has spoken about the need to change the whole governance approach to a system that any government can easily continue from where the previous government left regardless of party colours. There should be no need for anyone to want to rule forever, or until one starts using walking sticks. The goal is to develop an approach that all like-minded people will easily takeover. The aim is to create like-minded people by overhauling the entire educational system to suit the creation of responsible citizens who not only think about their immediate families, cronies and tribesmen.
It leads to the conclusion that the issue then, is not so much about the lack of knowledge on what policies would transform Malawi, but rather about the visibility of actual push to get into power and implement such policies. In other words, the frustration being expressed over the Vice President’s reluctance to be more militant in his approach to seizing power is born out of the desperation and the need being felt by the nation for him to do so. Thus when he speaks in parables and those that expect him to speak clearly fail to understand, they accuse him of being cowardly and not ready to lead.
I am inclined to believe that there must be more to Chilima’s new way of doing politics than simply enunciating cryptic parables from church pulpits. In this regard, I am guessing that there should be a method to the random approach and that perhaps the seeming reluctance to take the leadership issue by the scruff of the neck and run with it in a way that all Malawians can easily follow is itself a tactic?
If this is the case, my word of advice to the Vice President is that it is important, to recognise that there is a fine line between patience and cowardice. This line can mean the difference between inspiring one’s supporters as leader, and demoralising them because of lack of enthusiasm, courage and the zeal and zing to go.
Even a new way of doing politics requires action and clear and frequent demonstrations of courage.
Allan Ntata’s Column can be read every Sunday on the Maravi Post